By Cody Thompson

Messenger Reporter

GRAPELAND – Students and parents gathered at the Grapeland Elementary School cafeteria where they were shown the “magic” behind chemistry at the Texas A&M Chemistry Road Show on Friday, June 2.   

The event, sponsored by the Grapeland Public Library, saw the students and parents enter the cafeteria where a long row of tables covered in white paper and lined with various chemical apparatuses and glassware.

“This was an excellent way to get the kids excited about learning before summer vacation,” Grapeland Elementary School Principal Don Jackson told the Messenger on Friday. “Who knows, maybe some of the kids will spend their summers learning about chemistry after seeing all of the amazing experiments at the road show.”

A large, bearded man in a tie-dye lab coat, then turned towards the crowd and welcomed them to the road show by pulling the cap off of a blue bottle, resulting in a stream of thick smoke rising out of the bottle.

“A lot of people like to call this the ‘magic’ road show, but I don’t like to use the term magic at all,” Texas A&M chemistry professor and road show host, Dr. Jim Pennington told the Messenger. “With magic, a magician never reveals how he or she did their tricks. With the road show, explaining how the tricks are done is the focal point of the whole event.”

The students stared in wonder as Pennington moved from one experiment to another: from mixing chemicals that change into an assortment of various colors to freezing flowers in liquid nitrogen and everything in between, all the while explaining how each procedure worked.

“Part of our purpose in doing to these presentations is to show kids that all of the hard work they do in the classroom, the reading, the writing, the math and the science, will actually allow them to do some pretty cool things when they graduate,” Pennington said. “We’re just trying to show them that science can be a lot of fun if they just give it a chance.”

Pennington frequently asked the audience members for advice in answering various hypotheses and had them make observations about the various chemicals and reactions that took place during the experiments.

“One of the things we like to do at the road show is get the kids involved. Obviously, we can’t let them come up and do the experiments themselves because some of the chemicals are very dangerous and we don’t want the kids to get hurt, but we can have them help us by answering questions and forming hypotheses,” Pennington said. “This allows the kids to be involved in the experiments and it often shows them that they know more about science than they previously thought.”

For the second half of the show, Pennington had the lights turned off in the cafeteria and treated the audience to a variety of various chemical reactions that resulted in bright lights and flashes.

After the road show concluded, Pennington held a question and answer segment for the audience members.

“It’s always exciting when there are a lot of questions after a show, because that means the kids were engaged and excited about learning and that’s what’s important,” Pennington said. “In each show we strive to entertain, but what me want most is for the kids to learn.”   

To learn more about the Texas A&M Chemistry Road Show, visit www.tamu.edu/roadshow.

Cody Thompson may be reached via e-mail at cthompson@messenger-news.com.